The UK Government’s Equality Act 2010 (external link) provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all. The Act restated and simplified 116 separate pieces of earlier equality legislation into one Act, the bulk of which came into force in October 2010.
The characteristics protected by the Act are:
- gender reassignment
- pregnancy and maternity
- marriage and civil partnership
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation.
It introduces several new measures:
- requiring public bodies to meet a new integrated Equality Duty
- using public procurement to improve equality
- banning age discrimination outside the workplace
- requiring public bodies with more than 150 staff to publish gender pay gap information for their staff – publishing the percentage difference between men and women’s average hourly pay
- requiring public bodies to report on employment information about the number and characteristics of staff extending the scope to use positive action
- strengthening the powers of employment tribunals
- protecting carers from discrimination
- clarifying the protection for breastfeeding mothers
- banning discrimination in private members’ clubs, and
- strengthening protection from discrimination for disabled people.
People are protected from discrimination on the basis of these characteristics in areas such as employment, education, access to goods and services and the exercise of public functions, and membership of clubs and associations. There is also a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. The legislation sets out enforcement procedures to help people to assert their rights.
The Equality Act talks about discrimination in relation to protected characteristics. This means that people do not themselves need to have the characteristic in order to be protected from discrimination. People can be protected from discrimination because of their association with someone who has a protected characteristic – for example, the carer of a disabled person. People are also protected from discrimination if they are ‘perceived to’ have a protected characteristic.
While the protections are generally the same for each of the protected characteristics there are some instances where the extent of protection afforded by the law differs. For instance, unlike the other protected characteristics, marriage and civil partnership is a protected characteristic only in the area of employment.
Indirect discrimination where a practice is applied to everyone in the same way but which disproportionately disadvantages people with particular characteristics is prohibited for all of the protected characteristics except pregnancy and maternity. Indirect discrimination may be lawful but only when there is a sound business justification for the discrimination.
Public sector equality duty
In addition to individual rights, equality legislation introduced a public sector equality duty to ensure public authorities are proactive in tackling discrimination.
The new public sector equality duty in the Equality Act 2010 came into force in April 2011. The duty places an obligation on public authorities (including NHS boards) to take action to:
- eradicate discrimination
- to proactively promote equality of opportunity, and
- to foster good relations across relevant protected characteristics.
The intention is to prevent discrimination happening in the first place by changing the culture of public authorities so that they think about, and take action on, equality as part of their mainstream business. The duty has a two-tier structure – a general duty set out in the Equality Act 2010, and specific duties set out in regulations made by Scottish Ministers. The purpose of the specific duties is to set a framework for the better performance of the general duty.
Read Essential guide to the public sector equality duty by the Equality Human Rights Commission Scotland. This guide provides an overview of the requirements of the public sector equality duty.
Scottish Government issued a letter confirming commitment to implementing thr legislation. The Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012, came into force on Sunday 27 May 2012 and place specific equality duties on named public authorities in Scotland. These specific duties are designed to help public authorities develop better policies and practices, improve transparency and accountability, and deliver better outcomes for everyone in Scotland. The duties also look to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and advance equality of opportunity between different groups.
The specific duties include:
- A duty to report progress on mainstreaming the equality duty. Read Mainstreaming the equality duty by Equality Human Rights Commission Scotland.
- A duty to publish equality outcomes and report progress. (See our Equality outcomes page)
- A duty to assess and review policies and practices. (See our impact assessment pages
- A duty to gather and use employment information. Read Employee information and the public sector equality duty by Equality Human Rights Commissison Scotland.
- A duty to publish gender pay gap information and statements on equal pay.
- A duty to consider award criteria and conditions in relation to public procurement.
- A duty to publish in a manner that is accessible.
- A duty to consider other matters.
- A duty to the Scottish Ministers to public proposals to enable better performance.
The Equality Human Rights Commission has produced Non-statutory guidance to support Scottish public authorities in meeting their equality duties.
These guides provide an overview of the public sector equality duty, including the general equality duty, the specific duties and who they apply to. They cover what public authorities should do to meet the duty. This includes steps that are legally required, as well as recommended actions.
Using impact assessments to systematically consider equality issues is one of the key ways in which public authorities can ensure that they meet the public sector equality duty in the development and delivery of their policies, practices and services.
The revised specific duties require public authorities that are covered by the Regulations to assess the impact of applying a proposed new or revised policy or practice against the Act’s obligations to eradicate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity, and to foster good relations. There is also a requirement to publish the results of impact assessment and for the listed authority to ‘consider relevant evidence relating to persons who share a relevant protected characteristic, (including any received from the persons’. Therefore the importance of evidence received from equality groups has been made more explicit.
Read further information on the Equality Act (2010) (external link) including the Codes of Practice on employment; services, public functions and associations; and equal pay.
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